Woodburn woman reaches 101st birthday
Tillie Berndt, Woodburn resident and longtime Oregonian, turned 101 this month.
"I had one a year ago," she said of her Aug. 24 birthday. "I thought that was going to be the end of it. Then I lived another year, so here I am."
Berndt, who lives in Silver Creek Assisted Living, said being 101 isn't that different from being any other age.
"It feels like usual," she said. "I don't see any difference."
Berndt was born in Beaver County, Okla., located in the panhandle just north of Texas.
"We were six miles from the Texas line," Berndt says. "My folks went to Perryton, Texas, to do their shopping."
Berndt primarily grew up in Fairview, Okla. But her family moved around when she was young.
"My dad was a mover. He wanted to move all the time," Berndt said.
That included a move from Oklahoma to Kansas, a trip on which her family embarked in a covered wagon.
"It took us a week to go 100 miles," Berndt said.
But her family ultimately settled in Fairview. Her family lived on a farm, a lifestyle which Berndt didn't take to.
"We milked cows and all that kind of stuff," Berndt said. "I wouldn't have made a good farmer's wife. I hated it."
The farm didn't have any electricity.
"We had to use lanterns. We'd light kerosene lamps to see at night," Berndt said.
She said one of her sons once expressed disbelief about how her family could see anything at night with just lamps.
"I told him, 'That's all you had, so you'd see with it,'" Berndt said with a laugh.
Berndt went to school in a one-room school house, where she said, "One teacher taught the first clear up through the seventh and eighth grade."
And she'll never forget how long it took to get there. "I had to walk 2 miles and a quarter to school," Berndt said. "In the wintertime it was not fun."
Berndt's father was a Mennonite and very strict. "We weren't allowed to have face cards in the house," Berndt said, referring to playing cards. "They thought we would gamble with them."
She said things like dancing and going to "picture shows" were considered sins by her father. But Berndt still managed to see silent films at the theater when she would visit her aunt, who lived 40 miles away.
When Berndt was a teenager, her mother fell ill and was no longer able to walk. "We kids had to take over," Berndt said.
Her mother had another daughter when Berndt was 16. Because of her mother's poor condition, Berndt stepped up, dropped out of school and raised her younger sister. She said it wasn't easy, but it's what was expected back then.
"In them days, that's what they did," she said.
Berndt said she helped raise her sister until their mother passed away, which Berndt said happened when her sister turned 6 years old.
After her mother's death, her younger sister went to live with Berndt's oldest sister. "That was a mistake," Berndt said. "She missed me."
While still in Oklahoma, Berndt got married. When asked how she met her husband, Berndt said, "Oh, you know. Little town."
In 1941, Berndt and her family moved west. They first stopped in California for a short while, but one her brothers told her they should come to Portland.
While living in Portland during World War II, both Berndt and her husband worked manufacturing jobs for Swift & Company, a food processing company that helped serve the war effort. "They made ice cream and cheese and butter," Berndt said. "We wrapped it all up and they sent it to the soldiers."
When the war ended, Berndt said she was relieved. "We all felt pretty happy," she said. "I had two brothers in (the war)."
Berndt continued working in manufacturing after the war ended. She worked for Pacific Paper Box in Portland from the 1940s until she retired in the 1970s. "We made fancy boxes," she said. The company made boxes for companies like Meier & Frank, chocolate stores and knife companies.
"It was a fun job," Berndt said. "It was different. I got to run a machine."
She said most of the workers at the factory were women. "They were little boxes, they weren't big heavy boxes," she said.
Since retiring, Berndt's kept busy doing hobbies like playing cards, crocheting and making ceramics. She doesn't do as many crafts anymore because of her arthritis, but she still participates in arts and crafts classes at Silver Creek, doing crafts like beading.
Berndt's seen a lot of change in her life, including technological advances like the popularization of electricity, television, radio, movies and cars.
"If my folks could come back and see the all the changes, they'd be amazed," Berndt said.
Berndt doesn't understand some modern technology, though. She has a cell phone, but wants to go back to having a landline.
"I have one and I cannot get that in my head," she said. "People are calling me and I don't hear it ring, and when I do hear it ring I don't know what to do with the thing. It just aggravates me."
She's never used a computer, either. "I wouldn't even try to tackle that," she said.
She's also witnessed her fair share of death over the years.
Berndt's husband passed away in 2006. She's also outlived her four siblings, who all died in their 80s.
"My youngest sister should have outlived me," Berndt said. "I seemed more like her mother more than I did her sister … She was older than my kids, but not much."
Berndt said it's strange seeing her five surviving children getting older, too (her sixth child, a daughter, passed away in 2008). "My oldest kid's going to be 80," she said. "Can you believe that?"
Berndt remains mentally sharp. And she remained active until a few months ago, when she took a particularly nasty fall in her kitchen. She's been in a wheelchair since.
Berndt says she has no idea why she's lived so long. "All the sudden, I'm 101," she said. "When I was getting up in my 90s, people would ask, 'How did you get that old?' I'd say, 'I just keep breathing.'"
And she's hesitant to give people advice on how to live their lives. "I don't want to get somebody in trouble," she said with a laugh.